Wednesday, March 7, 2012

February 1966: Marvel's Most Iconic Image Ever?

Daredevil 13
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Daredevil’s vacation from hell continues as he is accosted in a cave by an Ape-Man! Meanwhile, searching for some healing berries that will cure Daredevil of his illness (he has now lost his super powers from a strong punch),  Ka-Zar does battle with a giant plant. The savage human, along with his pet saber-tooth tiger, Zabu, overcome the plant creature after Ka-Zar makes a quick fire with two stones. Daredevil may be without his powers, but even blind, he is able to fight off the primordial beast until some unexpected help arrives in the name of the Plunderer. The villain believes it is Ka-Zar inside the cave battling the Man-Ape. He shoots a round that injures the Ape-Man, causing him to flee. Though disappointed that it is only Double D, he quickly uses him as his captive once again. One of his pirate cronies named Slagg points out that Daredevil is blind, so the Plunderer dismisses him as useless. The Plunderer then lures Ka-Zar into a trap by showing him a half piece of a medallion that he claims his long lost brother has the other piece of. The savage human also acknowledges that he has a half medallion also. Ka-Zar, while lured into a false sense of security, allows the pirates to capture him in a cage dropped on him, but not before he is able to pass along the healing berries to Daredevil. Our hero eats them and they slowly restore his powers. Believing that it would be wise to continue faking his total blindness with no powers, Double D plays possum for the time being. The Plunderer takes both heroes back to his castle in England. He smugly tells Daredevil about his scheme in that his father had long ago brought back a powerful pile of ore that could vibrate so strongly, it could become the ultimate weapon of power. His father crafted a medallion out of a section of the ore then split it in half between his two sons, the Plunderer and Ka-Zar! The Plunderer never saw his father again, as his father took his brother (named Kevin) and sailed to Skull Island where he first found the ore, never to be seen again after being hounded by agents. Before his departure, the Plunderer’s father had put the ore in a crypt that only the two matching medallion pieces could open. Ka-Zar is kept in an underground cell which the Plunderer pushes Daredevil into, ordering him to get the other half off of Ka-Zar or die with him. Ka-Zar is past reasoning at this point, feeling betrayed and that he can’t trust anyone. The two heroes brawl awhile before Daredevil uses the savage human as a launching pad out of the prison, luckily kicking and knocking out the Plunderer also. The pirate crony, Slagg, tries to shoot Double D, but one of the Plunderer’s servants, named Feepers, shoots and kills him. Feepers ends up being a secret agent working for a mysterious organization that wants the medallion also. The two heroes escape the villain’s castle as Feepers calls in agents across the globe to come to the location, while the Plunderer calls the police to capture them. The story ends with an unknown agent shooting the heroes with a grenade gun.

PE: Without his "super heightened senses," Daredevil's just another guy in longjohns. Unfortunately, we don't get to see panels of DD walking into walls or sticking fingers into a man's eyes while trying to shake his hand or any of the other uber-funny pratfalls that Hollywood has shown us through the years. Blind people are supposed to be funny, so why is this guy so morose? And how are DD's powers so easily removed and regained? Stan never fully explained how The Man Without Fear lost his powers in the first place last issue other than a super-duper blow from Ka-Zar. We know how he gets his super senses back so I'd advise our hero to take a stash of Ju-Ju Berries back to the states with him if one well-placed smack to the kisser makes him a nobody in the superhero world!

Tom: Lord Almighty! Did Wally Wood write this one also? Because it’s got as much going on as the two-part story from a couple issues back! I’m starting to like this saga, even though it’s getting pretty bizarre. The art is fine and Ka-Zar’s dialogue is getting a little better. In this issue alone we’ve got pirates, ape-men, killer plants, magical healing berries, a villain’s castle, secret double agents connected to evil organizations, and a mysterious all-powerful ore that may be released if a special medallion can open it when matched. This is like a case of throwing everything on a wall until some of it eventually sticks.

PE: Stan can't help himself from injecting some of that Marvel Romance, so he stops the action dead to transport us back to the Foggy and Karen situation. Karen's crying because she's convinced the only man she's ever loved has been washed overboard and Foggy's thought balloons are alternating between "Gee, I guess she really loved him" to "She can't mourn him forever!" This is Matt Murdock's best friend simultaneously holding back the tears and animal lust.

Jack: Take a look at the change in Daredevil’s horns from issue 11 (Wally Wood art) to issue 12 (John Romita art). Wood’s horns are straight and almost metallic-looking, while Romita’s curve inward. Part two of the Ka-Zar story is all over the place! Daredevil fights with Maa-Gor, we learn that Ka_zar is really the long-lost Kevin Plunder, brother of the Plunderer, the gang sails to a castle in England, Ka-Zar has half of a wondrous medallion, Feepers the servant is the head of a spy network—whew! This is a very pulpy story. I’m glad to be done with the pirates by the end but it looks like they’ll be relaced by equally corny English bobbies.

PE: As with the romance interruption, Stan feels he has to get in at least one "Hero vs. Hero" sequence and this one, The Plunderer might opine, is full of bilge water. Ka-Zar suddenly hates all men including DD and so attacks. DD exclaims that this is exactly what he wanted in the first place and uses Ka-Zar's back as a springboard to deliver a swift kick in the head to The Plunderer. Only the intricate mind of a lawyer could have planned all that out beforehand. I hasten to add, before my time runs out, that if you dropped a metal cage onto a man from the height of a palm tree, jungle savage or no, you're going to kill him.

Jack: Not as long as he has the magic ju ju berries!

PE: The Feepers reveal ("I am actually part of an International Espionage Network that disguise themselves as butlers for decades and then strike when we feel the time is right but don't really update our technology to keep other countries from stealing our information") is a hoot. I was waiting for The Plunderer to disclose to the word that he's dressed in a cape because he's actually Dracula, King of Vampires! Hard to believe this is the same Jazzy Johnny Romita who'd light up The Amazing Spider-Man in a few months. It's got Romita's "gritted teeth" trademark but much of it, especially our friend Maa-Gor, is sketchy at best.

The Avengers 25

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Dr. Doom decides that the best way to cause the Fantastic Four to fear him is to defeat the Avengers! He tricks them into coming to Latveria and encases his kingdom in an impenetrable plastic dome. The Avengers find Dr. Doom’s castle and confront him. The first battle causes Doom to run off to change his armor. In New York, the Fantastic Four get word of the Avengers’ plight, but are barred from helping because of the sensitive relations between the U.S. and Latveria. Dr. Doom returns to battle the Avengers again, but they work as a team, defeat him, and escape, opening the plastic dome and allowing a Latverian child to travel outside the country for medical care.

Jack: If Dr. Doom and Kang are the same person, wouldn’t Kang know it? And wouldn’t Dr. Doom recall having been Rama-Tut? My brain hurts! This story reads like a Stephen King novel, due to all of the pop-culture name checks (and the dome, don't forget the dome!-PE): Ed Sullivan, The Munsters, 77 Sunset Strip, and the Rolling Stones are all mentioned.

Hawkeye displays his cutting sense of humor
PE: Instilling fear into the hearts of The Fantastic Four seems a pretty flimsy reason for attacking the "Once-mighty" Avengers, but that's exactly what Doom does. More corn beef hash as we have to endure such thought balloons as Wanda's (while looking dreamily at Steve Rogers) "Am I just confusing pity with the dawning of love?" schmaltz. And why do these so-called intelligent Marvel heroes always fall for the "long lost Aunt Agnetha in the hills of Latveria" trick? Reminds me of the "You've won $1,000" scam the feds run on wanted felons to bring them in. I do love how, once they're in Doom's country, the team is arrested and Cap gets a look on his face as if a new dawn is breaking and utters the immortal words: "Hang on a minute. Now I know where I've heard of Latveria!" Stan (or perhaps one of his ghost writers) is up to his eyeballs in inane pop culture one-liners this issue ("Welcome back to 77 Sunset Strip" and "This could be where The Munsters spend their vacation" jump out). I don't have the Essentials volumes but I wonder if any thought was given, by the current powers-that-be at Marvel, to update those references to something today's kids could relate to.

MB: You would think that an Assemblers/Doom smackdown would be a slam-dunk, especially with Ayers having a better day, but even before the Quartet comes face to face with ol’ Vic (who pursues Kang’s thinking from last ish about their complex relationship), we’ve got some troubles. The by-now-routine intra-team squabbling, Wanda’s interruption of couch-potato Pietro’s viewing with important news, and the Avengers' walking ever so blithely into a trap in a foreign land are all rehashes of recent issues…and don’t even talk to me about their waltzing into Latveria (in civilian i.d., yet) without knowing who runs the joint. Bre’er Hawkeye is a veritable font of pop-culture references—The Munsters, 77 Sunset Strip, Dracula, Alfred Hitchcock—but it’s a shame some of the Master’s magic didn’t rub off on what is, ultimately, a rather silly story.

Wanda demonstrates the prototype of the Wii

Fantastic Four 47
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The “good” Inhumans, save for Triton, have vanished into Lockjaw’s dimensional vortex. Dragon Man has flown to freedom. Triton will die without water to breathe. What’s a super team to do? Split up! Johnny and Ben take off in pursuit of the dragon, while the newlyweds remain. Sue throws an invisible force bubble around Triton, which Reed fills with water.  The Seeker returns, and moves Triton into a proper water tank, making reference to Maximus, the ruler of all the Inhumans. When the Seeker points out that humans have no legal right to stop him, Reed backs off, but plants a homing device on the outside wall of the ship to pursue later. Johnny has a flash of his brother-in-law’s brilliance, using ultraviolet flame to give Dragon Man a “sunburn,” knocking him out. When the FF reunite, Reed turns the misguided creature over to the authorities, which have him sent to a deserted island where he can be studied under sedation. On the other side of the world, Black Bolt and the others arrive at the Great Refuge, where, after a warm welcome from some angry Alpha Primates, they again see their ruler. Maximus pretends to be glad for their return, but secretly plans to conquer humanity with a weapon called an Atmo-Gun. He essentially usurped rule over the Inhumans from Black Bolt, their rightful ruler, and his brother. A so-called accident that rendered Black Bolt speechless was the doing of Maximius. Medusa is betrothed to Maximus, but really shares a deep love for Black Bolt. Perhaps it is this incentive that Black Bolt uses to snatch the crown off of his brother’s head, and to wear it justly himself. Not far away, the FF, flying a commercial aircraft to avoid suspicion, track Reed’s homing device to a plateau high in the Andes mountains, where they find the Great Refuge. Ben Grimm’s landing skills come in handy, and they set out to find the others in the awesome city, set far below. A rock bridge gives way, sending them plummeting down, where Sue casts an invisible mattress to cushion their fall. The Inhumans are uncertain if the FF are friends or foes (except for Crystal and Johnny), but want no bloodshed, and ask them to leave. Reed tries to convince them of the folly of trying to remain hidden forever, while Maximus steals away to unleash the Atmo-Gun, which will unleash vibrations into the atmosphere that will harm only humankind.

PE: Despite the fact that we're knee-deep in "epic" territory, it's hard for me to keep a straight face when, in every other panel, Reed is shouting such idiocies at his new bride as "I'll explain it later, woman! Just do as I say!" or "Stop sounding like a wife, Sue! I still make the decisions for this team." Right about that time, Sue's wondering how fast she can get down to Mexico for one of those quickie divorces. Atlantis must be looking pretty good now.

MB:  We make our first visit to the Great Refuge, while our ever-expanding cast of Inhumans is joined by the Alpha Primitives (looking a little more primitive than I remembered them from later issues) and Maximus the Magnificent and/or Mad, with the latter’s machinations making the situation with the Seeker somewhat clearer.  So that’s all well and good, as are Sue’s overdue ’do—if a tad ill-timed—and the responsibility for the Dragon Man devolving onto other hands, especially with Galactus and the Surfer on tap for next ish.  I know their bickering is part of the familial shtick that has always differentiated the FF from other teams, but it just seemed a bit much here, from Alicia’s patently foolish assertion that she should stand by her man while the big winged galoot tore her building to bits to the discord between the barely married Richardses.

Ya gotta admit, for a comic chick, she's pretty hot!
PE: Just what I was thinking, Professor Bradley. That "We're about to fly into a deathtrap but my hair needs to look its best if this is the end" sequence is one of the wildest I've seen in a Marvel comic. Does Sue always pack her make-up kit when heading into battle? Does it have one of those invisible shields around it so her enemies don't see it and guess that her Achilles' Heel is her mop? Amping up the silliness is Johnny Storm and his raging libido. While his team fights all around him, the world in flames, he stands off to the side exclaiming "I've got to find that Crystal. I've been in love since the moment we met (about ten minutes ago)!" There was truly nothing subtle about developing plot lines with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The second Johnny has thought balloons about the fair Crystal (and vice versa), you'd know this chick was hanging around for a while. He's already calling her Chris! And didn't Johnny use that "This is the first time Reed has called me a man" line just a couple issues ago? Maybe he should have phrased it differently: "This is the first time Reed's ever called me a man while we were flying in a commercial airliner over a remote dead spot high in the Andes to avoid attracting undue attention!"

JB: On a personal note, I remember getting a copy of this issue in horrible shape; the Torch’s flame was covered in blue ink. After I had traded it in, this same copy came back to me  a couple of  times in later years, in different stores. It must have been haunted.

PE: Glory be to King Kirby. His art helps make this strip readable while the script is like a trail through mountains and valleys, although I begin to wonder if his costuming was designed using some colorform-style materials. Maximus's outfit looks like something out of the Thor strip and we're going to see an even more Maximum Maximus-ish design with Galactus. I'd think these characters, with their imposing headgear, would have to stop their life of crime every couple weeks to visit a chiropractor.

JB: As much as I like the Inhumans, some things about their situation don’t make a lot of sense to me. If it was so easy for Black Bolt to grab his crown back, why didn’t he do it ages before, since his family has been on the run for so many years? Is the power Maximus has had just in the crown (except for the Atmo-Gun he’s developed, which the others don’t know about)? The good guys here aren’t without power themselves.  You guys are right, Sue is pretty hot with those new tresses; look out Medusa!

PE: As we've already learned from Daredevil's Ka-Zar/Plunderer surprise and now the Maximus/Black Bolt reveal, everyone in the Marvel Universe seems to have an evil brother.

Journey Into Mystery 125
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The Demon, the witch doctor transformed by the power of the Norn stone, plans to pillage another fortress but finds an unexpected obstacle: the Mighty Thor. The Demon’s followers fire a rocket cannon, but not before Thor's Mjolnir blocks the barrel. The resulting explosion scatters the Demon’s army and renders him unconscious, the Norn stone protecting him from further harm. Thor returns the stone to Odin in Asgard, but when he requests permission to return to Earth, his father forbids it, furious that his son has revealed his secret identity to Jane Foster. Thor’s punishment:  to endure the “ritual of steel,” battling Odin’s warriors, and if he survives, he will be banned forever from Earth. On our lovely planet, Hercules has arrived and is awoken from his nap on a grassy hillside by the brakes of a passing train that is blocked by a fallen Sequoia tree. Tossing the tree aside, the Olympian learns that the train is on its way to the city and he gets on board. Enjoying the good life like no one else can, Hercules is soon feasting at a fine restaurant, surrounded by beautiful women. Some common criminals make the mistake of attempting a robbery, but find that an immortal is an obstacle not to be trifled with, even when they’re armed with guns and a runaway car. Thor’s troubles are on a different scale; having battered his way past Odin’s guards,  Thor finds his way out of Asgard blocked by Heimdall, whose sword is almost the equal of Thor’s hammer. Heimdall’s ears, sensitive enough to hear a flower growing, prove his undoing, as Thor creates a loud enough sound of impact to momentarily stun the guardian of Bifrost and make good his escape to Earth. Crowds have gathered to watch the spectacle of Hercules, and Jane Foster, preparing to leave the hospital, watches from her window. Thinking Thor must have returned, she rushes to the scene, only to find Hercules instead. She has however, struck his fancy, and she allows herself to be charmed by him as they sit down for drinks. Thor returns at this moment, and the crowds attract him to the very scene where they are. Tired of waiting for his return, Jane wants none of Thor’s excuses. Hercules doesn’t appreciate when Thor brushes aside his greeting, nor does he like hearing Thor's tone towards “his” girl, and he strikes Thor. The stage is set for a mighty battle.

“The Queen Commands” her flying trolls to hover but not strike the Odinship in Tales Of Asgard. Loki and his cohorts work some unauthorized magic, causing the trolls to fall into the sea, but only temporarily, as his scheme backfires, and Loki is carried off by the winged hordes.

JB: Enjoy the “Journey Into Mystery” logo for the last time folks! Although it sounds good, it will be nice to have the covers cleaned up a bit. It always irks me a little in retrospect that the numbers of the Thor issues are so inaccurate with their real numbers, but that’s a minor point. 

MB: The Demon has unfortunately met my expectations as a forgettable villain, but fortunately takes up less than half the issue, which seems to be a frequent pattern: instead of winding up a plotline at the end of a story, they do so in the middle and then move on to something else.  In this case, that’s the arrival of Thor’s Olympian counterpart, Hercules, and the concurrent Ritual of Steel at Daddy-O’s behest.  Even entrusted with Thor’s literally life-threatening secret, Nurse Jane shows she is worthy of the opprobrium regularly heaped upon her by the senior faculty with her selfish “How dare you leave me to help those countless innocent people?” routine—feh.

PE: Once again, Odin tests positive with Alzheimer's. One issue, he's furious his son is dating a bad girl from the other side of the tracks. Next, well, it may be okay. Isn't there anything to be done in Asgard? Does he sit atop his throne and conjure up new ways of intruding in the personal lives of his kids? No wonder Loki's so screwed up!
Raise your hand if you want Mighty Mjolnir to strike Jane
JB: It’s nice to have a running saga without Loki having much of a part in it. It gives the Thor title more credibility; sometimes we’ve been left to wonder if Stan and Jack viewed the options of the comic as being somewhat limited. Thor is in a kind of personal crisis with everyone turning against him (except Balder, who is gutsy enough to risk the wrath of Odin rather than smite his brother in arms). I agree Jane doesn’t do herself any favors by ditching Thor in his time of need.  Again, Stan and Jack seem to change their minds whether to intend Jane as a worthy longtime partner for Thor, or just a catalyst for drama, to take advantage of Thor’s one vulnerable spot, his heart. Hercules is, and continues to be in the future, a great foil, and friend, for Thor.

PE: Sometime around the end of 1965 Stan Lee must have had a real hard look at his amazing new universe and decided... there weren't enough love triangles in his comic books. That has to be the only reasonable explanation for adding yet another obstacle to happiness for The Mighty Thor. In my book, Jane Foster will be better off with Herc, but how long can it last? The guy's built for multiple relationships, not monogamy. One day, soon after they've hooked up, he'll try to have an intelligent conversation with the daft nurse and he'll be gone in no time. I do find, as Professor Jim notes, that Hercules is a great supporting character, which surprises me since I don't recall feeling the same way about him when I read his adventures as a kid. The fish out of water aspect of the character plays much better than with Thor since Herc's a happy-go-lucky feller and Thor's a stick in the mud.

The Amazing Spider-Man 33
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Trapped beneath tons of machinery, an exhausted Spider-Man somehow finds extra reserves of energy to free himself and escape the crumbling undersea fortress of Doctor Octopus, Aunt May's serum in tow. The wall-crawler is able to get the ISO-36 to Dr. Connors and the good doc is able to mix a potent potion designed to save May's life. To Peter Parker's delight and relief, the potion works and Aunt May escapes The Grim Reaper yet again.

PE: I can see younger readers pushing this one to the side in 1965 and muttering "no action" under their breath. Spider-Man is trapped in Doctor Octopus's lair but we never see Ock, not even one panel of his large backside as he scubas away to safety. It's all about Spider-Man overcoming adversity, far beyond the breaking point, for the one person he loves and trusts most in the world. That's a nicely staged sequence, the lifting of the big gizmo, and you can understand why that one panel has followed Steve Ditko ever since. It's probably one of the ten most iconic moments in comic book history. The little spider that could. And the fight with Ock's henchmen shortly after is a keeper as well. Spidey's thoughts are so focused on getting that ISO-36 to Connors that he continues to swing away after the baddies have all been bested. The rest of the issue is familiar territory: the Foswell connection, the chintzy Jonah, the close call for Aunt May, the romance problems. So do you give a"landmark" designation for a series of 19 panels amidst a good but not great story? Yeah, in this case you do.

Could this be the most iconic Marvel image? Chime in.

MB: The trapped-Spidey sequence that begins this justly celebrated issue isn’t as long as I thought—I’d misremembered that they somehow spun it out (ha ha) for pretty much the whole 20 pages—but it’s still a tour de force for plotter-artist Ditko, with Stan’s script in there punching.  That full-page shot of Spidey freeing himself makes the reader heave a sigh of relief and release as well, and even then, half the issue will be over before he’s defeated the Master Planner’s gang and can get on with the business of saving his Aunt May.  With all that’s been dumped on him lately, it’s nice to see the victorious Peter, bloodied but unbowed, and we don’t even mind so much that the real villain, Doc Ock, has taken a powder for the entire issue.

JS: I can understand why that sequence would be so memorable—because the rest of the story is so forgettable. While I was willing to believe that Spider-Man could muster the necessary strength to lift the heavy machinery, I have a bigger problem with his being able to fight off a team of baddies while so seemingly groggy he's ready to fall over at any minute.

PE: Seems like every issue we're back to square one with dunderhead Betty Brant. She's pestering Peter again even though, supposedly, he'd already driven her to Ned Leeds for good. Now she's acting like there's still a chance for her and Parker as a couple. Betty even has a Green Goblin-esque meltdown while flashing on her dear dead brother.Sheesh, these thick-headed Marvel dames!

JS: Yeah, enough already. Petie's moved on, Betty. He knows it, we know it, and you should know it.

PE: On The Spider's Web page, prolific letterhack and future fanzine contributor (The Amazing World of DC) Guy H. Lillian III writes in a rare rave for Marvel. Lillian was a mainstay in the letters pages of DC Comics.

The X-Men 17
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After defeating The Sentinels, the X-Men's next challenge is allowing the Beast and Iceman to get the medical attention they need (while preserving their secret identities), while the rest of the team races home to intercept Warren Worthington's parents who are in town for a surprise visit. Little do they all know there's someone else lurking in the shadows of Xavier's mansion. Our old friend Magneto!

MB:  I don’t know how much effort Kirby is truly putting into the book at this point, but I’m still not sold on the Roth/Ayers team providing the finished artwork, which I don’t think is awful, just routinely disappointing in a way I’m having trouble quantifying; perhaps the senior faculty will have better luck.  Regardless, it was probably foolish of the X-Men, or any reader, to think that Magneto was gone for good, yet despite the misterioso build-up it gets here, his return is something of a disappointment.  Even if you didn’t figure out (let alone reveal) the “incredible ending,” the whole set-up, with our merry mutants being menaced on their own turf by an unseen villain, feels too much like a rehash of Juggernaut’s dramatic introduction just a few issues back.

PE: Those of you who didn't see that final panel coming all the way from page 7, raise your hands. You will sit in the corner with a dunce hat on for the next week. Seriously, twenty pages of build-up for what? This issue smells like one of those "Deadline Doom" fillers Marvel used to pull on us unsuspecting lads and lasses in the early 1970s. A story that could have been easily handled in a third of the running time but relies on its characters leaving the hospital one or two at a time to drag out its narrative. Flying metal objects, purple gloves, where's the mystery to who this guy really is? I desperately wanted to be fooled.

JS: Granted, as a splash page, that final panel at least leaves you on a positive note. I mean, is there anyone that didn't finish this installment knowing that the next one would be better?

Tales of Suspense 74
Iron Man
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Lying powerless on the castle floor, Iron Man has only one chance to contact help: his transistors have just enough juice left for him to call Pepper Potts. The beautiful secretary races to the castle and rescues Shellhead, taking him back to Stark Industries where he can reboot himself. While he's recharging, he learns that doctors are about to test out Strak Industries' newest gizmo, The Enervator, on a non-responsive Happy Hogan, still in a coma from the fight with The Crimson Dynamo a few issues back. Unfortunately, The Enervator is still being tested and may be flawed. Did we say may be flawed? Iron Man reaches the hospital just after the doctors have blasted Happy with the machine and opens the door to wreckage. The Enervator has transformed Happy Hogan into, what several people have dubbed, The Freak, a giant, bald strongman devoid of anything human. Feeling responsible for his gofer's rather bad week, Iron Man sets off after him, bemoaning the fact that he didn't really get that good of a charge back at the plant.

PE: Answers the question every Marvelite was asking at the time: what would Happy Hogan look like if he was a Watcher? I love Colan's work as usual. His Iron Man just looks perfect as opposed to the Don Heck version we'd been subjected to all those years. It's too bad Colan couldn't have taken over more Marvel strips. The Pepper-Tony-Shellhead triangle is, thankfully, toned down a bit more than usual. I'll refrain from mentioning that, yet again, a moniker sticks after two or three unrelated characters utter the word "freak." If Happy can talk by the next issue, he'll be exclaiming "Behold, world, I am The Freak!"

MB:  This is another of those frying pan/fire stories that epitomize the serial format, and again, Abel doesn’t seem consistently, uh, able to handle Colan’s powerful yet unconventional pencils—his Iron Man looks terrific, but some of his faces suffer the same amorphous fate as under Colletta’s inks in Astonish.  If you think about it, the Freak is like Shellhead’s less-interesting version of the Lizard:  a super-powerful foe with whom he cannot reason, and against whom he dare not unleash his full might, because his good friend is trapped inside.  Speaking of Mr. Hogan, his soon-to-be-spouse provides a true “only in comics” moment when we realize that La Potts has finally transferred her affections from one man to…the same man in a suit of armor.

PE: Soon-to-be-spouse? Good Professor Bradley, you've spilled the beans for me!

Captain America
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Having watched the first two sleepers join forces and lat waste to several villages, Captain America heads to the NATO Army base to warn General Logan he's gonna need a bigger cannon. Meanwhile, the third sleeper, a dome shaped like The Red Skull's head flies off to join with its two brothers as one big sleeper. Cap hypothesizes that the Big Sleeper will head to the North Pole, blast its way through the earth's core and then detonate, cracking the world apart like an egg. Knowing he has only one chance to bar that disaster, Cap free falls from an airplane onto the Sleeper where, with a little acetylene know-how, he destroys the mechanical monster and saves the world yet again.

"Could we get this to scale, Cap?"
PE: As if I was able to reach back across the decades and talk sense into Stan Lee, he presents us with not one, but two fatalities this issue, both of the Nazi variety. Now we know this can be a dangerous job. Despite looking pretty goofy, I thought the initial two sleepers were pretty awesome. Together with the sleeper head, the whole shebang is just goofy. I think if handled by another artist, this could have been something real special. The anti-climactic finale is criminal. You set up what could be potentially a world-ending threat and it's dispatched with an acetylene torch? The only bright side to this disappointment is my single favorite panel of the month (well, okay, second after the "Spidey Lifts the Big Gizmo" shot), Cap's homemade drawing of the three sleepers, resembling something a First-Grader would draw with crayons. The cherry on top would have been a backwards "S" in Sleeper!

JS: I'm glad you finally recognized how goofy the super Shogun Warrior Sleeper-mobile was. I'm just sorry it took attaching the coolest portion (the exploding Red Skull skull replica) for you to see that.  I was personally more surprised that Cap didn't get blown up with it.

Strange Tales 141
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD
Our Story

S.H.I.E.L.D. uses a diamond-tipped bazooka drill and a power-drive hammer to enter Imperial Hydra’s sanctum sanctorum, but before they can—in a, shall we say, supreme irony—he is gunned down by his personal guards, who do not believe undisguised Arnold Brown could be their “massive, powerful” leader.  Nick allows his daughter, who saved Fury’s life, to escape with a pair of wall-climbing vacuum-soled shoes, despite Dugan’s warning that “the press’ll roast ya alive,” and leaves Dum-Dum to finish mopping up while he and Jones return to H.Q.  There, a demonstration by the new E.S.P. division is sensed by their mind-reading ex-agent, who intends to team up with an inventive escaped con, the Fixer, against S.H.I.E.L.D.

PE: Once again I'm left wondering why a guy with a brain as huge as The Fixer (the police have named him that because there's nothing he can't fix!) would turn criminal. Isn't there easier money to be made legitimately? Our new Brainwave-buddy even notes that this guy could have rivaled Tony Stark if he hadn't turned bad guy. Crime, evidently, must pay. Of course one wonders, after watching that fabulously high-tech prison escape, how he got caught in the first place!

MB: Kirby is apparently back to providing full pencils again, this time with creditable inks by “Frank Ray” [this was obviously written after my comments regarding next month’s Avengers], and the pair makes an excellent team, although Brown’s appearance seems to have changed considerably since last issue.  Fury doesn’t even have a chance to grab a hot meal before being summoned for another one of those appallingly dangerous demos (“I shall take aim and fire at him!”), but more than one reader is probably in sympathy with his decision to let Brown’s daughter flee, after all she’s been through.  As for us, we have the pleasure of meeting the first post-Hydra villains to be introduced, Mentallo (as we shall soon know him) and the Fixer, who will be around for a while.

PE: The sequence where Brown is assassinated by his own bodyguards is sheer genius. I would like to see a little less of the unclothed Nick Fury. Save that for the Howling Commandos title. Here, he's the suave, Bond-ish super-spy and should stay dressed as one. Nick should have at least suggested to Brown's daughter (whom he was obviously sweet on) that perhaps she might want to doff her incriminating Hydra toga before exiting the scene. Although Fury might have wanted to get rid of the dame so's he could make off with her pop's getaway hydroplane. It's amazing that Hydra was able to dig that elaborate tunnel under the city of New York, all the way from Hydra Central to the docks, without the city being the wiser. Public Utilities must have taken 1965 off. It's all fun, though, as even Stan and Jack get into the outlandishness of the situation with their tongue-in-cheek schematic of the tunnel.

Jack: Great Kirby art drives this entertaining story, as we wrap up the Hydra arc and segue into a new story. The Fixer’s escape from prison recalls a similar escape by the Wizard in Strange Tales (was it issue 105? Help, Professors!).

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Though Dormammu is angry at Mordo for interfering in his battle with Dr. Strange, he claims victory until Strange recovers and challenges him. The battle is joined again, and this time Dr. Strange feigns weakness in order to emerge victorious. Dormammu vows to leave Earth alone, but quickly contacts Dr. Strange to show him that Clea is being banished. The Ancient One has recovered and sends Strange on a new mission to destroy the traces of evil enchantment that Baron Mordo spread around the Earth. Little does he know that Mordo’s minions house planted a bomb in his sanctum.

Jack: The fight is a rehash of what we saw last issue, so I’m glad Dr. Strange can move on to new challenges.

MB: “Let There Be Victory“ is certainly an ironic title for a tale in which the tables are turned so many times in a mere ten pages, from Strange apparently defeated and perhaps dead through his seemingly clean win over Dormammu to a victory rendered hollow by Clea’s banishment. On top of that, Doc’s now gotta play Whac-A-Mole with the residual evil left behind by Mordo, but it’s been ages since I last read these stories and I can’t recall where we are headed with that. In the Musical Credits Department, Steverino is back to being listed as the plotter after a two-month hiatus, while—for the first time in my memory—it is the “dialogue and captions” that are attributed to Stan; given the fairly seamless nature of this saga so far, I have to wonder if these varying credits really indicate that much of a change in m.o. from issue to issue.

JS: I picture hundred of kids screaming at the page to remind the good doctor that Dormammu can't be trusted.  After the last several months (years?) of this storyline dragging on, I like where it leaves the reader, with a hidden bomb threatening to go off while Strange stops to catch his breath.

Tales to Astonish 76

The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner wastes no time pummeling the treacherous Krang now that he has him at his mercy. Though the craven tyrant begs for leniency, Namor punches him around like a rag doll. Eventually, Prince Namor realizes that his main squeeze, Dorma, needs to be saved from death by using the revitalizer machine. It’s a close call, but eventually Dorma comes back to full life and in her hero’s arms. A celebration is underway as the people of Atlantis rejoice with the crowning of Namor as their leader once again. Feeling in a generous mood, Namor orders Krang banished from the kingdom instead of killing him. Unfortunately the party is short-lived as a tremendous earthquake shakes Atlantis, causing property damage and injuries. Namor believes that this is like the last time his kingdom had suffered such a quake, when it was caused by the humans on the surface world detonating nuclear bombs in the oceans for experimental purposes. Namor once again vows to return to the surface world.

Tom: A decent conclusion, which illustrates just why I like this Namor dude. He gave Krang a good beat down that some other heroes would have passed on, being content to just tie him up and leave him for the authorities. Not so in Namor’s world. While it probably would have made more sense for him to have Krang executed, Subby wouldn’t have much of a growing rogues gallery then would he? I’m looking forward to seeing if this series can continue its quality with the next story line.

Jack: I wonder if Namor’s Ancient One knows Dr. Strange’s Ancient One? Maybe they went to high school together! Gene Colan’s art may not be up to his mid-70s heights, but it’s good enough to make this tale flow along pleasantly.
"I hereby crown you . . .
Miss Atlantis, 1966!"

MB: For several issues, I had been wondering whether Namor’s devoted, but heretofore unnamed, elderly subject would turn out to be the wise counselor of later years, and sure enough, he is here proclaimed Lord Vashti. I liked Subby’s dressing down of the usurper, and the crafty Krang’s glee over his sentence, and—as an incurable romantic—Namor’s declarations of love for Dorma; Colletta’s inking, not so much. But I think this is one case where Stan actually bit off more than he could comfortably chew within the confines of half a book (did we really require two full-page shots of Atlantean royal splendor, out of a total of only twelve?), because the “ending” seemed disorientingly rushed, and should have been saved for the next ish.

PE: A strange story to be sure, feeling quite like the epilogue to one novel and the prologue to another. I didn't have as much trouble with the inking as Professor Bradley but I did notice that Subby's nose seemed to be under his right eye at times. Still, when you consider what we had to deal with in the dim, dark, early days of Tales to Astonish, this is nirvana.


Our Story

The Hulk has been accidentally sent to the future and is surrounded by an army of strange-looking men. He defeats and endures their weaponry until they use a machine to paralyze him. They take the Hulk captive and imprison him, until the King of that army summons him for a conversation. The communication between them doesn’t last too long as the King hints of an all-powerful evil one who has warred with his people. The Hulkster doesn’t care about their war and threatens to wreck the King’s whole palace if they don’t return him back to his time. The green goliath trashes a bunch of the King’s army before escaping. He notices that an invading army has laid siege to the city. Spoiling for a fight, the Hulk jumps onto one of the invading machines, only to be confronted by the Executioner! 

Tom: It’s kind of hard to judge these serials when there is so little material between issues. It must have been torture to have been a Hulk fan and have to wait a whole month when the action would start to get into high gear. I’m guessing that this issue's villain, the Executioner, is the same bad dude who tangled with Thor in his series not too long ago. At least it looks like the same cat?

PE: A vast improvement, art-wise, over the last handful of issues as Gil Kane (appearing under the pseudonym of Scott Edward) is welcomed to the Marvel Bullpen. Though not much of Kane's signature work is salvaged under the layout of Jack Kirby and the demoted Mike Esposito's inks, there's an immediate upswing in excitement to each and every panel. Gone are the almost cut-out and pasted backgrounds and stiff, interchangeable supporting characters. It's a far cry from the glory days to come (Herb Trimpe, take a bow) but it's superior to the muddy past. The story's another matter, but then it always is. I still get the feeling this strip has no guide, no one to steer the ship nor a course for it to follow. It's all being made up from panel to panel. 

How we often feel after reading a Hulk story.
Jack: I’m not sure if “layout” equals “plotting,” but the big weapons are clearly Kirby’s work. I was surprised (for once) by the ending, where the bad guy is revealed to be the Executioner! But most surprising at all was when I discovered that Scott Edward, who is credited with the penciling, was a pseudonym for Gil Kane! I do not see one tiny bit of Gil Kane on this story. It looks like Kirby and Demeo (making it two pseudonymous artists on the same Hulk story!).

Yup, same guy!

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #1
Millie the Model #135
Modeling with Millie #45
Patsy and Hedy #104
Rawhide Kid #50
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #27


Fantasy Masterpieces, a reprint title created to showcase Marvel's late Golden/early Silver age science fiction tales (Kirby's "I Found the Things from Nowhere" from Journey Into Mystery #60 appears in the first FM), was a weirdly wonderful experiment that didn't quite catch on with the Marvel fans of 1966. After two issues of sf reprints, Stan shook things up by introducing Golden Age Captain America stories and adding pages (while increasing the price to a then whopping 25 cents!). Eventually, Fantasy Masterpieces reprinted the other "big two" of Marvel's Golden Age, the original Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. You can't beat, for sheer coolness, those All-Winners Squad adventures. Fantasy Masterpieces lasted 11 issues and then was retitled Marvel Super-Heroes, a predominately reprint title that would feature new content now and then (including the first appearance of Captain Marvel in its premiere issue), before settling into Hulk reprints, where it limped on for 102 issues until its cancellation in 1982. We'll cover the new content in Marvel Super-Heroes as we get to it.


  1. I love how those "sensitive relations" prevented the FF from going to Latveria ("Now I know where I've heard of [that]!"), but not the Avengers. Funny that we all fixated on those pop-culture references.

    Professor Pete, I'm right with you on the Richardses' honeymoon being so quickly over. Superheroing must be tough on a marriage. I think the other "This is the first time he's called me a man!" line you're thinking of may be Bobby referring to Scott in a recent X-MEN. Or maybe it's still to come. I'm working so many weeks ahead now that I've lost all sense of time, but I think it was a Sentinels issue.

    Professor Jim, that is hilarious about your "haunted" issue of the FF. I'm glad we can mix stories like that among our more scholarly observations. Keep 'em coming! And I, too, continue to feel that the, shall we say, balance of power among the Inhumans is a bit murky at this early stage of the game. I'm used to the days when Black Bolt was the leader and that was that. I know, 20/20 hindsight.

    Paste-Pot: Nothing against King Kirby, but no love here for Joltin' Joe, whose FF inks (in my opinion) make all the difference? It's true, though, that their combined efforts make up for a lot of uneven writing during this period. Second your well-expressed logic in awarding Landmark status to AMAZING #33, and sorry for the Happy/Pepper spoiler (if you were serious). I admit I am assuming some level of familiarity with what is to come...

    Do we need to standardize our intra-faculty references as either "Professor [First Name]" or "Professor [Last Name]"? I'm confused...

    Lacking a copy of this Hulk outing, I wasn't aware that Kane/"Edward" had joined us, whether recognizably or not. Hallelujah! But I'm right with Pete on the "made up from panel to panel" feeling, which unfortunately continues.

  2. Professor Matthew-

    You're probably right about the "This is the first time he called me a man" reference being from The X-Men but do not, for one second, believe I'll go back through the stacks to find out!

  3. Professor Matthew: Thanks for your comment welcoming personal experiences with the critical observations. I've enjoyed the ones you, Peter, John, Tom and Jack have shared as well.